The title is over the top. We know that. But the thing is that the historical sites, bars and monuments on our list deserve it. They've been included because they're simply amazing, impressive and numerous other adjectives. They're also places that can't really be adequately explained with words - they have to be seen in the flesh. And not just once, but again and again. If you think we've missed out somewhere that is worthy of being in this feature, then tell us about it in the comments section.
The black rocks of Cap de Creus mark the most easterly point of the Iberian Peninsula, and the wildest part of the Costa Brava, as spectacular as it is treacherous; covered in thousand-year-old remains, it still jealously guards some of its best-kept secrets. One of them, which we're generously sharing with you here, is Cala Tavallera, located about 2km from Port de la Selva, but only accessible from the GR11, the hiking route that connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic.
In some blogs and guides they insist that the beach can be reached by 4WD but the safest way to get there has always been by a two-hour walk that ends with a well-deserved prize: a cove that's practically deserted in summer and winter. It has a shelter for spending the night and witnesses dawns that feel as though a new world has been born. The seabed is fabulous and has a wide range of creatures living on it. At the height of summer many small boats anchor there, but at the start and end of the season, it's very rare to find anybody else there. If you do want to spend the night, it's a good idea to call the local council to make sure the shelter is in usable condition and available.
There's no Banyoles local who doesn't brag, and with good reason, about the Estany, the town's natural lake that's the biggest in Catalonia and the main identifying feature of Banyoles. The waters come from underwater springs in the Alta Garrotxa region, and they're filtered through limestone before arriving at Banyoles. There the land changes from permeable to impermeable, and the waters are forced upwards. And why do you need to go and see it? Because it's truly lovely. It doesn't matter how many times you've seen it, it's impossible not to stare open-mouthed at the views. And take numerous photos. Interestingly, in the past, the Estany de Banyoles was much larger than it is now, flooding the area to the west of it by between six and eight metres above its current levels.
Who doesn't adore Besalú from the very first moment they see it? Who can avoid taking non-stop photos while having a coffee on one of the local terraces or walking around this town that's located 150 metres above sea level? We love Besalú because it seems like it's come straight from a film set in medieval times. Indeed it's one of the most important remaining medieval sites in the whole of Catalonia.
Catalan writer Josep Pla was very sure of one thing: “I don't believe that there is anything, in this country or in most other countries, like it." The Dalí House-Museum, located in Portlligat, was originally a small fisherman's cottage, where the painter regularly lived and worked from 1930 until the death of his partner Gala in 1982. Inside it has a labyrinthine structure with numerous small rooms as well as decoration made up of an eclectic selection of objects that Dalí collected down the years. Outside, the standout feature is the giant egg on top of the roof that, according to the artist, was there because the house was 'intrauterine'. Incidentally, the house (which was converted into a museum following Dalí's death) was visited by the likes of Walt Disney and the Duchess of Windsor while the artist was still alive.
Better known to many as the Lovers' Cove (Cala dels Enamorats), this small cove is a kind of sea enclosure that forms a small natural swimming-pool. It's not only an idyllic, peaceful corner, it also has incredible views of Llança, Port de la Selva and even Cap de Creus. In sum, a small, hidden jewel. To get there, the best thing is to go by boat or kayak via an opening that links it to the sea, but if you're daring enough, you can also get there on foot. Just make sure you're wearing quality foorwear.
Girona residents like to explain stories and a walk along Passeig Arqueològic (or Passeig de la Reina Joana) can be enthralling. Never in such a small space, in terms of length, have so many legends been generated, halfway between reality and fiction: themes include the ghost of the Jewish woman Torana, the holes in the wall produced during the Peninsular War, the mountain of Montjuïc from where the French bombarded the city, the Gironella Tower, the Jardí de la Francesa and, best of all, the stone witch on the Cathedral. Terror, love, adventures, divine punishment... you've got all the necessary ingredients for a great time. Swot up a little in advance, hone your storytelling skills, pack sandwiches for all and blankets, and your family can spend a great morning or afternoon explaining thrilling stories. The grass and benches will help make your task much easier.
Gola de Ter, or Fonollera beach, is one of the most tranquil beaches on the Costa Brava. And, at the same time, it's one of its most exceptional because it's where the river Ter ends, meaning that you can walk through fresh- and saltwater at the same time. In fact, as you get nearer to the sea, you can see how the river forms pools in the sand. What makes this spot even more special is the majestic presence of the Medes Isles just off the coast, rising from the waters. But don't expect to find showers or bars on this beach; at Gola de Ter, the only human presence can be found in a few country houses ('masies') some distance away. It's a real gem.
This is a place we just couldn't leave off our list. The historical remains at Empúries include one of only two known Greek settlements on the Iberian Peninsula. It's a site that brings together two different cultures: the Greek one (6th century BC) and the Roman (218BC), even though the majority of the remains that are currently visible come from the period in which the Greek and Roman cities were joined in a single municipality. In the Roman part, highlights include the mosaics from the large houses ('domus'), the forum and the main gate in the city wall. And in the Greek section, it's the temple of Asclepius and the Hellenic breakwater.
Visit Castellfollit de la Roca
Castellfollit de la Roca stands on an amazing basalt cliff that's 50m high and almost 1km long, cut away by the Fluvià river. Every time we go there or pass nearby, it's impossible not to say and think the same thing: 'Incredible!' It almost looks unreal. And it probably goes without saying that the views of the surrounding area are astounding
We know that this is one of the beaches on the Costa Brava with the greatest number of towels per square metre at the height of summer, but throughout the winter and up to Sant Joan (Jun 23), it's a real delight. This old fishing village that's been converted into a kind of summer mecca for wealthier Catalans hasn't lost its charm along the way, and seeing the people (everybody there is beautiful) coming out of their houses with their swimsuits already on and throwing themselves into the water has a certain appeal, even if we can only experience their joy vicariously. The range of restaurants and bars is almost infinite, but invariably expensive: Calella is one of the most upmarket destinations on the Costa Brava. It could be said that the Mediterranean way of life was invented here on an August night years ago. Close by, in Port Bo, they stage a famous performance of 'havaneres' ('sea shanties') each year.
La Terra is possibly the most Instagrammed-bar in Girona. From the bohemian decor to the urge to get out your Moleskine notebook and write endless poetry, the mosaic floor and the views over the river Onyar - this is an unmissable place where everything can and deserves to be photographed. It's one of those bars - together with Els Jardins de la Mercè and El Pati del Rabí - where locals love to take visiting friends. And those friends inevitably fall in love with it. And that's what makes La Terra a place that has to be seen before you die. While there, don't miss the sandwiches made using 'llonguet' bread.
Take a trip to Peratallada
An outing to Peratallada is a typical day out for many Catalan families. It has many similarities to the historical French walled town of Carcassonne - one writer describing the comparison said of Peratallada, it's 'a little bit over-restored but with a lot less restaurants and shops selling knightly trinkets'. It's definitely worth the trip. Peratallada is one of the most important medieval villages in Catalonia (it's been designated a historical-artistic site and a Cultural Asset of National Interest), and maintains its feudal appearance with walls, towers and castles. Photogenic isn't the half of it.
They're a typical image of Girona, but there's a reason for that. In fact, even now, many locals take photos of them during their walks around the city. It doesn't matter if they've already got numerous shots, they'll say things like, 'today the sun is giving the view a special reflection', or 'I've found a new perspective'. They're all just excuses. People are in love with this view and that's it. And it's something you have to see at least once in your life.
Visit Cap de Creus
It lies between the earth and the sea, where the 'tramuntana' northerly wind blows, and is blessed with unique geography, structures and outcrops that create a place that's unique in the world: the Cap de Creus is simply amazing. It's one of those places that's not easy to explain, you have to actually see it. And visit again and again and again...
If there was a world ranking of 'xiringuitos' (beach bars), this would certainly be close to the top. And that's because it's in front of possibly the most perfect beach hotel ever (without wanting to offend anyone). The hotel is a modest house that hardly stands out among the lunar landscape of Cap de Creus, surrounded by pine and olive trees, cut off from the rest of the world, and without coverage for your mobile. To complete the image of perfection, three generations of one family run the place and if there's nothing you fancy on the set menu of the day, they will rustle something up for you (of course – there's a grandma in residence). But let's focus on the xiringuito: it was inaugurated in 1981, is open between approximately June and September, and is chic without going over the top, groovy without being a hive of modernity. On Fridays and Saturdays in the summer, there are DJs and live music. You have to drive along a track to get there, and you shouldn't use GPS because you'll get lost. But it's all worth it. Really worth it.
Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful bar in the whole Costa Brava, which is why it warrants a spot on our list. During the day, you can enjoy views of the bluest sea and the rocks of Cala Banys below your feet. At night, the spot becomes more intimate and romantic and, even though it's only five minutes from the centre of Lloret, all you'll hear is the sound of the water lapping and the voices of loved-up couples. The drinks are top-notch, and this is a memorable and unmissable place for discovering another side to Lloret.